Every page matters, but think about the importance of that first page. And it's not even a full page! Talk about pressure, right? Have you heard how long an agent or an editor will give a submission before deciding whether to reject it or request more material from the author? Answers vary, but I usually hear it's not long. It sounds unfair, but it isn't. Challenging for the writer, yes. Unfair, no. It actually makes sense.
When you're at a bookstore and you pick up a book by an unknown author (what most of us non-celebs start out as), how long do you give it? People buying books won't wade through forty-seven pages, waiting for the good part--not even if they happen to know an author worked really hard and is rumored to be a lovely person who nurses sick cats back to health in her spare time. We have to snag them right away, and hooking them is easier said than done. Of course, "them" = prospective agents, editors, and eventually future readers.
I've been to quite a few first page sessions at conferences and workshops where attendees' first pages were critiqued by agents, editors, and authors. When it was agents and editors doing the critiquing, they sometimes shared whether they would go on to page two if the work had been a submission.
It's interesting to hear the thought process of someone on the other side of the desk, and it's so educational. You can learn a ton from other people's mistakes and successes. If you submit your manuscript's first page and they get to it, you'll learn even more from your own. (By the way, the pages are usually presented anonymously so it's less scary.)
Here are some of the things I've heard from agents and editors in the past two years when first pages were being evaluated:
*One editor said he almost always reads beyond the first page.
*One agent said she often stops at one page.
*An editor said he sees too many stories that start out with a child being forced to spend the summer with a relative.
*One person said too many interjections create a choppy reading experience.
*One agent appreciates small details in the story.
*More than one person said to avoid starting the story with the protagonist waking up. Apparently, they see a lot of that in children's book submissions.
*Most of the editors and agents weren't wild about prologues.
*One editor said she likes a hooky opening line, but not something super bizarre.
*One editor said she stops if the protagonist is giving too much description, allowing her to see the author plotting.
I don't know if these comments are helpful without the first page samples, but I hope they are. Something nice about being there in person was gauging my own taste, imagining myself as the agent or editor being queried. Certain first pages intrigued me and told me the person who wrote them had real talent and experience. I think those things do show up on the page, and pretty quickly. That motivates me to try my hardest to make my own pages shine.
It makes sense that so many agents' submission guidelines request the first three to ten pages with the query letter, doesn't it? If I were an agent, that's what I'd do.
I went to a session at a conference where an editor who had earlier critiqued our first pages read aloud the first pages of books she'd acquired, books that are coming out this year. It was fascinating. Now I find myself paying extra close attention to the first pages of my favorite YA books. It's so inspirational. And just think...all of these books' authors started out like us, unpublished but working hard to make their dreams come true.
Do you have any first page tips? They don't have to be for YA/children's. We're a mixed group, and I think that's cool.
By the way, I've never thanked my followers. Thank you so much for your support, good cheer, and knowledge. I learn from you here and at your own blogs. <3